It took Akira Kurosawa a long time to get a
Despite not aging well, Sam Mendes’s American Beauty was a sensation in 1999. Mimics have since ruined the odd feel and uncomfortable look at suburbia that was fresh and vivid at the time. American Beauty won five Oscars, and here are a few fun facts about the dark comedy…
1. The helicopter shot at the beginning of the movie was originally for a flying sequence where Lester floats over the houses and then down onto his bed.
2. Director Sam Mendes storyboarded extensively, based on his plan to use three visual styles – a very formal style for the bulk of the film, augmented by a more graceful style for the fantasy scenes and a handheld look for the video footage.
3. Actors considered for the role of Lester, before it went to Kevin Spacey, included Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, and Woody Harrelson.
4. Kevin Spacey improvised everything he does in the car while his character is stoned and singing to “American Woman”.
5. Sam Mendes designed the two girls’ look to change over the course of the film, with Thora Birch gradually using less makeup and Mena Suvari gradually using more, to emphasize his view of their shifting perceptions of themselves.
6. When Lester throws the asparagus, he was supposed to throw it on the floor. Instead, he hurled it against the wall, and the reactions of Annette Bening and Thora Birch are genuine.
7. The title of the film refers to a breed of roses that while pretty and appealing in appearance, is often prone to rot underneath at the roots and branches of the plant. Thus, the tagline “…look closer” tells the viewer that when they look beyond the “perfect suburban life” they will find something rancid at the root.
8. In one of many references to Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, a film about an older man obsessed with a teenage girl, “Lester Burnham” is an anagram for “Humbert learns”. Angela’s surname is Hayes, another reference to Lolita Haze from the film.
9. Holly Hunter and Helen Hunt were considered for the role of Carolyn Burnham before it went to Annette Bening.
10. The original script was topped and tailed with scenes of Ricky and Jane in jail and on trial, and other events surrounding their arrest.
11. The filmmakers made an effort to avoid any specificity in the film’s locale, in favor of a more generic setting. However, the area codes in Jane’s phone book are 312, which is the area code for Chicago, and the paper in the Burnhams’ kitchen appears to be the Chicago Sun-Times. Also, the lawn signs for both Carolyn and Buddy have phone numbers with an (847) area code. The (847) area code serves the northern suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.
12. The scene where Lester is putting in an application for the counter job at Smiley Burger, was actually shot at night, but it was later fixed to look like day. Notice that neither Lester nor the burger kid has shadows on their faces from the sun.
13. Chris Cooper was the last actor cast – virtually when rehearsals were beginning. When he first read the script, he found the character infuriating, thinking: “God, do I want to spend so much time in this character’s head?” He remembers, “Then I started making excuses… I said, this is such a negative script, I don’t like this and that.” His wife finally told him he was “frightened of this script and chances are because you’re frightened you should do this part”; his response was that he “knew, really immediately, that she was right.”